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Hamilton’s First Shipping Container Home Was Built in a Day

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Hamilton’s first-ever shipping container home was painted red to match the brick houses on the street. But that’s where the similarities end.

On Wonder Inc.’s website, the first thing visitors encounter is a quote by Rem Koolhaas: “People can inhabit anything.” It’s a sentiment that the Toronto interdisciplinary studio, known for its explorative takes on modular housing, take dead seriously. Led by Jason Halter, Wonder Inc. has experience designing container structures in China, Canada, and the U.S., including in post-Katrina New Orleans. It’s no wonder why Wonder Inc. was selected to build Redhouse, the first shipping container home dropped, installed and built in Hamilton (Ontario). And it only took a single June day to erect it.

shipping container home - Hamilton Ontario

The Ask

Commissioned by a local entrepreneur with an NGO background, Redhouse was imagined as a single-family home that could, if necessary, be cleaved into two townhomes. The client wanted space to live, but also hoped to house refugees, new Canadians and friends from abroad. “The single-family dwelling is intended to be a single-family dwelling,” says Wonder Inc.’s Jason Halter. “I think the client intends to redefine what ‘family’ might mean in this context.”

The Design

After securing a building permit on a double-wide lot that had sat vacant for 50 years, Wonder Inc. designed an eight-container, three-storey house resting on a 1,280-square-foot concrete base. “Our task was four-fold. We had to rationalize what the client wanted and to orient the shipping containers in such a way as to give separation for the individual bedrooms in the home. We also had to provide a massing that would be simple. On top of that, it had to fit into the neighbourhood some way,” says Halter. And it’s the firm’s biggest container build to date.

The Structure

The building is an octet of 8-by-40-foot modified high-cube containers custom-fastened to a foundation. It was painted in red polyurethane paint. This is a deliberate nod to the neighbourhood’s brick homes. Halter says the 2,560-square-foot structure will feature between four and six rooms. The ground floor will feature the kitchen. This will have an upcycled German system and refurbished radiators providing heat supplemented by a wood stove.  Also on the ground floor is living space, bathrooms, mechanical areas and storage. The upper floor will house a master suite, additional bedrooms and a bathroom. Each bedroom features operable windows and balconies made from the shipping containers’ barn doors, fastened with steel grafting. The excess energy generated by the rooftop photovoltaic panels will be fed back to the grid.

A Simple Palette

Though its layout will be flexible, its design was kept deliberately simple, embodying Wonder Inc.’s self-described lunch-bucket aesthetic. “Uncomplicated, systems-based, and resilient,” says Halter. “God may be in the details, but mother nature is in the materials. We love raw steel, Douglas fir plywood, solid woods and plain stone finishes. The goal was to use a highly restrictive material palette: I had proposed fewer than five materials throughout.”

shipping container home

Putting it Together

Wonder Inc. and its building partner, StorStac, opted for a single-day installation. The containers were stacked using a 200-tonne crane; the measured steel work and levelling was prepared ahead of time. Welding, building envelope modifications and structural reinforcement were all completed in a slim eight hours. The final touches – as well as electricity, cladding and insulation, among others – will be completed by the owner. “It’s a little bit of an epic task to try and do it without the experience of a contractor, but that’s also the magic of this build,” says Halter. “You just don’t know how it might get completed. As a designer, I kind of like that challenge to see how the building will turn out.”

To some of my architect friends, this is apocryphal, but to me, I welcome the chaos.” – Wonder Inc. partner Jason Halter

shipping container home

The Future of the Shipping Container Home

Indeed, the building’s final incarnation is out of Wonder Inc.’s hands. But that’s the beauty of the shipping container: it’s a blank canvas perfect to design a home. Since its proliferation in the mid-20th century, the shipping container always held the imagination of experimental designers, and Halter – along with architects like Wes Jones – have built careers with them.

They’re a format Halter believes can offer flexible, durable and cost-efficient housing solutions across the country – including the north. “Our modified containers and hybrid versions are super-efficient solutions for housing challenges that require mid to long distance truck freight handling,” he says. “The built-in logistic component of the shipping container and their robust frame and overall resilient integral skins are tremendous assets for many areas of geographically and geologically diverse regions of Canada.” WONDERINC.COM

Read about Pilot Coffee’s coffee-shop-in-a-container that dropped in Prince Edward County for the summer.

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